My word for 2018 is acceptance, and my mantra is “accept rather than expect.” This is especially important as people around the world celebrate Christmas today.
For me, Christmas is a family reunion at Donna’s and Elliot’s on Christmas Eve with most of our family and tons of dessert. It’s visiting Uncle Chris and going out for lunch. On Christmas Day, it’s a trip to the Stillitanos’ house for a fantastic Italian meal and playing with my cousins. Christmas is watching the classic Claymations like The Year Without a Santa Claus and decorating the tree while listening to The American Girls‘ Christmas album on the CD player shaped like a jukebox that my dad gave my mom years ago as a Christmas gift. Above all, Christmas has been a time to spend with my US family. These traditions have changed somewhat over the years, but their shape has remained the same.
The past two years, I’ve been a full hemisphere away from my US family. I’ve been incredibly blessed to be able to share the holidays with my wonderful and loving host family here, but the traditions are very different. Christmas carols and trees aren’t well-known in the rural areas. Last year, I tried my best to replicate my usual Christmas traditions by decorating my room, watching classic Christmas films, and listening to carols. I wrapped my host family’s gifts in Christmas paper that I bought in town. On Christmas Eve, I went to church as I usually would with my family in the US. But in trying to replicate my holiday traditions, I began to feel despair. It only reinforced how much I missed my US family and made it difficult to be present in South Africa.
This year, I decided not to try to celebrate Christmas. I listened to a few carols or watched a Christmas movie, but only when I felt like it. I am trying to give space to both my grief for being far from my US family and my gratitude for my SA family instead of feeling guilty. I went to an interfaith service yesterday and was baffled and disappointed when the choir sang “O Little Town of Bethlehem” and “Away in a Manger” to different tunes than the ones I know so well, but once the initial shock wore off, I let myself appreciate the beauty of the carols anyway.
With the heat and the absence of most of the markers that I’m used to, today simply doesn’t feel like Christmas. But I’m learning that that’s ok. I don’t need to force myself to manufacture Christmas cheer. In my meditation this morning, I wished all people to be happy, healthy and free. I plan to read a good book and enjoy myself today without the pressure to make it special. Later, I’ll call my family and be grateful for Whatsapp, which allows us to hear each other’s voices even though we’re far away. I am learning to accept these things and set aside my rigid expectations of Christmas, lessons that I hope I will take with me when I resume my usual traditions next year. I hope that all of you reading this are happy, healthy and free all year round, not just on Christmas, and that you embrace acceptance and new perspectives in 2019.